This year i opted to go long distance in my running, longer than the previous 53 km at St Illtyd’s in South Wales 2017 (5 hours 45 mins). The knee injury that plagued me over the last year or so, sustained just previous to St Illtyd’s, has now settled so it was a natural choice to step up the distance.
Coming off of a strong Triathlon season with some respectable results over Sprint, Olympic and Middle distance’s. I was feeling quietly ok with the the task of 50 miles! It was the 10,000ft elevation that was rather daunting…
Training prep saw incline work came in the form of Hampshire XC races and some treadmill and bike work. I was never going to fit in the required specific training nor volume for this event to be an “A race”. The lead up was rather casual in this regard. The aim was to enjoy the event and finish in a respectable fashion.
Wendover Woods 50 mile race is, by their very own admission, the toughest 50 mile race in Centurion Running’s arsenal. It is both a UTMB Mountain Race Qualifier and held in high regard as one of the toughest but still runnable UK 50’s by many an avid ultra runner. Personally i liked the set up of 5 x 10 mile loops in beautiful woodland. This breaks the task down into digestible parts, lap by lap, incline by incline you learn what’s coming so can manage the race accordingly. As it turned out i defiantly had to manage to finish!
After registering at 0800
came the personal admin of number belt, race pack, drop bag, a coffee and race brief. We were walked to the start line nestled in the woods on a simple walkers path. Some nervous chit chat and heart felt good luck wishes were exchanged and we started at the sound of an air horn after a classic 5,4,3,2… We’re off!
I was at the front of the start line as usual, but today i wanted to just get the race done under the 10 hour mark. 2 hour laps had been advised by the Guru himself Mr Ian H, this was very achievable! It was cold, damp and waiting around was just more time on the feet… So i was keen to head off on the “warm up, recce lap” and take in the route and gain an understanding of what exactly was to be encountered and potentially happen later in the race come fatigue. I was not able to recce this run due to workloads so it was a great experience adjusting and racing by feel.
I ran the runnable paths and trails, walked and often climbed the inclines. Some inclines were on paths, runnable in any other situation, but not today! I had to keep my head screwed on… I’d seen what can happen over these types of races and knew the grit, determination and sheer stubbornness that can be required to finish, today i wanted a clean (if not a little muddy) fight to finish without any real drama.
I enjoyed the interval style that the course profile provides, short running then needing to stop walk and climb, hike or crawl up embankments! I refused to look at my Garmin for speed, distance and time data. Telling myself its only a warm up lap walk and only run when its safe or good to do so. The ground differed from think puddle filled mud to fire road, gravel path and hard chalky tracks, grass and tree roots so very varied! Footing was an area you could not relax with, always spotting and planting my feet as careful as possible i was engaged with the course, occasionally taking in the views of meadows, trees, the nature is inescapable.
A very well stocked aid station was placed at half way round the course. Sweets, chocolate, tea, coke, Tailwind , water, squash, banana, orange, water melon, sandwiches, wraps, crisps, biscuits, party sausages just to name a few options! I noted what they had as later it may be a pivotal place to get to, from here its just 4.5 miles to the next station and/or finish line.
As i came into the 2nd aid station/finish area on lap 1 i couldn’t help but see the timing clock… 1 hour 33 mins… I was placed top 10 and while this made me a little nervous i felt more than comfortable. That said, i came in
seeing Ian knowing i was too quick and that i may get a tongue lashing,… I explained while Ian topped up my drink and i grabbed some watermelon, “That’s just to quick, but i ran walked it easy”. He simply said, yes mate that is to quick, asked how i felt and i was in and out in seconds. 2 hours was the target time and once again i walked the inclines, ran the runnable sections but decided to walk more this lap as the time needed to come down otherwise things would get ugly! I enjoyed some food at the aid station and took time to stretch and eat! I could feel by now the chalk paths were hard on the feet as i opted to run in my Innov8 trail shoe that had great grip yet left me looking for softer ground on the hard chalk/gravel roads. On this lap a few passed me but i didn’t care, it was a long day out and lap 2 is early on, plus i had 27 minutes in the bank from lap 1 so, easy does it, i told myself. Coming in Lap 2 at 3 hours 29 mins in 20th place. Almost bang on time and again not looking at the Garmin. At this point i felt i could repeat that lap, every lap!
I ran less in this lap and it was totally repeatable. Setting out onto lap 3 was where things became more challenging. The weeks previous I opted to run in my Nike spikes at the last few Hampshire XC races simply due to the weather and conditions on the day, i had to ease up due a calf niggle at 5km in the last race just a week previously. Now it seemed that niggle was on the way back to bite me!
I eased the running pace down and only ran on the sections i knew i could without any drama’s, all in a bid to manage to calf. I modified my gait accommodating the calf trying to give it a preferred gait movement. Inclines i used rotation to assist my legs and just kept moving forward compensating wherever i could. This tactic worked in that i could keep moving but as what cost!
No problem though, i could still be on for around a 10 hour finish so i managed, compensated and carried on as best i could. Again stopping and stretching at the half way check point, food and drink was taken on and i walked (rather than hopped and skipped) out and up the hill…. Passed by many runners and walkers but i was not racing, i was managing! Still running the flats i came in from Lap 3 and topped up as usual. A salt tablet was taken (in case it helped the calf) and i felt i had to tell Ian my calf is becoming a potential problem, be this in less polite terms. He got the gist i think… I questioned myself about a shoe change as by now the hard chalk was really starting to hurt my right foot… I didn’t want to reduce my time anymore than i absolutely had to, as i was already at 5 hours 47 mins and in 37th place. I was about 20 minutes down on target pace, but knew i had 27 mins in the bag from lap 1 and 5 mins from lap 2…. 32 mins – my 20 from this lap…. i really wanted a 10 hour finish…
At just before half way around lap 4 the part of my calf really started to cramp forcing me to a walk for longer than ever. I knew this was the beginning of the end, i had to be sensible and get a finish by managing a few running shuffles but in short slower bursts. Ever waiting for the leg to ease off so i could just find some way to progress. This never came and i found myself at the half way aid station really having to psych myself up to get 1.5 more laps in… I completing lap 4 in 8 hours 38 mins i was officially in sufferville, i had a dog run at me “from out of nowhere”… jumping over the hound didn’t do the knee any favors. Some runner’s had already finished, i’d been lapped, swelling and pain were having a party and the light was almost gone. Its an ultra i told myself, get on with it.
Not wanting to stop i simply explained, i cant stop my knee will swell more, i need to get going, i’m struggling but not ready to stop. I didn’t want to get comfortable at this stop i was now wanting a finish and night was setting in, physically i was ok mentally i was up for the finish so i headed out for the last effort, after all i knew the course now, i just had to go for one last lap of the Woods. A long walk around the dark cold lonely Woods.
I opted to listen to my audio books on this lap as a distraction from the pain and so tuned into “Free radicals and anti-oxidants” as well as “Endocrinology”. I was moving ever slower my now and was forced to the odd shout in pain as a rock caught my foot or the knee twisted on the mud, i had adopted a penguin style waddle.
I made it to the final aid station, when i had to be steadied on my feet and seated i knew i was almost hyperthermic, hands were dancing and it seemed i had to concentrate hard to listen (No change there Claire may say). I knew those who were tracking me would see i made it into the check point with 4.5 miles to go and i wouldn’t stop now. I heard Claire say “come on Mark, its less than 5 miles, you can do more than that for work”. I saw Ian looking at his watch thinking “come on bud where are you, should be here by now”?
I got my warm kit on sat and settled for a cuppa, some sweet treats then the lady only pulled out a cheeky “emergency only” strawberry cheesecake! I stopped here for about 15 minutes, not in hope for another cheesecake, but to warm up for one last cold pain filled jaunt. Time in the bag for a finish, many behind me still so i just walked, hobbled and crawled ever slower to the finish, i managed a shuffle to the line but that was all. Taking 3.5 hours for the last 4.5 miles, frankly embarrassing pace, but a finish is a finish and some may say its good value for money… I used my watch to play guess the finish time towards the end, some very kind runners actually stopped and asking if i was ok, one offering me her spare top and buff, another walking with me but i was far to slow for him by now. I crossed the line in 13 hours 6 mins. A tough day at the office. But got it done, running, jogging. shuffling, walking, climbing, slipping (yep went over once) and crawled to the line… Centurion Running offer a Night 50km, and a Wendover Woods 100 miler… NO just no! Not right now!!
Well organised organisation, well marked course, kind volunteers, great food stuffs on CPs, easy personal admin process, large worthy medal and quality technical t shirt… putting the value back into running races for runners by runners. #BookIt